Two of the three songs HCE submitted last August as Demo, surface here . The remaining nine songs continue the trend set by “It’s A Buick” and “Have To Choose,” toward classic Pop sophistication. While the band has lost no one of its quirky charm, the savvy simplicity they employ throughout this project is indicative of the years that Michael Jarmer and Rene Ormae-Jarmer have invested in their crafts: as musicians and songwriters.
Between Michael’s expert drumming and Rene’s classically informed piano renderings, the two create a solid foundation over which Michael sings the lead vocals, while Rene adds harmonic vocal support. The addition of Justin Clarke on bass, creates lowend fluidity to the character of the music.
Michael’s lyrics, moreso than at any time in the past twenty years, give light to serious introspection regarding issues such as life and death, isolation and human interaction. A recurring theme of interpersonal relationships is at the heart of the songs. And there is a real sense that recent life crises have formed the framework for many of the lyrics.
Over Rene’s roiling piano figure, and his own restrainedly solid drumwork, Michael kicks off the album with “I’ve Got Time,” which somewhat obliquely deals with the need to slow down, even when the urge is to hurry up. “And I was hoping to be brave/And I was trying to be good/And I was thinking it was time to try/Something a bit different this time.” Clarke’s entrance on the second verse, a bubbling bassline, nicely works against Rene’s energetic piano chords. The long, pretty fade incorporates splendidly subtle synth-string pads into the sonic picture.
“Yes, I Said” is a McCartney-esque ballad, with Rene’s turbulently pastoral piano phrases and adroit string accents setting a ghostly mood. An idiosyncratically gorgeous chorus adds to the densely pensive atmosphere. Queer drum samples filter into the mix of “I’ll Take My Chances,” as Michael intones a low mutter of a vocal. “There was a boy lost his father/There was a dad lost his boy.” A lovely, lilting Beach Boys-influenced chorus brings the song home. The chorus to “Self Help,” with its “bubbuh bahtbah” background vocals, mirrors the Beach Boys as well.
HCE’s treatment of Gary (“Cars”) Numan’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is reverential, but cutting edge in its stripped down approach. Clarke lays down a pliant bass lick over Rene’s chugging Wurlitzer piano tone, as Michael delivers a matter-of-factly noirish vocal Rene layers sumptuous marimba-like into the chorus. Very nice.
The jazzy waltz “Some Sunday” features some very nicely executed trumpet interludes by guest Paul Mazzio. The arrangement traces a Brian Wilson/Paul McCartney/Todd Rundgren triangulation— finding space in the middle and end for Mazzio to stretch out for an HCE rarity: a solo. But Mazzio proves himself to be worthy of the opportunity.
“Found Something” could pass for a Broadway show tune. On the piano Rene plays majestic open chords, with Latin flavored flourishes,, augmenting the production. “Sing My Song” lends a fitting coda to the proceedings.
Michael Jarmer and Rene Ormae-Jarmer, with the help of bassist Justin Clarke, have created a small Pop masterpiece with this album. Exploring mature topics with intelligence and humor, the band has never sounded better, more musically succinct. Nor have they had better material with which to work. A breakthough record for the twenty year old band. Not bad!
Ad Astra Per
It’s been three years since last we heard from Kevin Richey in his Bingo incarnation. He has adjusted his band somewhat. Rounder bassist David Reisch steps in for Tim Acott on this go-around. Jim Boyer has joined the crew, backing Richey’s guitar, banjo or mandolin with fine, complementary guitar work and backing vocals. Returning are trusty drummer Clayton Jones and violinist Marilee Hord. Fellow Rounder Robin Remailley makes an occasional appearance, contributing percussion and mandolin, with itinerant Paul Brainard on dobro and pedal steel. Why, if this isn’t a band of misfits and ramblers…!
Richey’s music is rooted in American folk music. His original tunes, of which there are eight fit right in, idiomatically, with seminal songs such as Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” Elizabeth Cotten’s “O Babe It Ain’t No Lie, “ and “Riverboat Gambler,” oddly enough, a Rounders’ number. But Richey’s original creations reflect his affection for Eastern music and culture. The first song, “So Moved,” is the perfect example— a droning raga, a chant in appreciation. Hord’s rhapsodic violin swirls around the other instruments like a flying carpet.
Buoyed by a jaunty glockenspiel and a mournful electric lead guitar, “Sweet By & By” is the perfect platform for the chapfallen splendor of Kevin’s unadornedly appealing baritone. Lyrically invoking T.S, Elliot’s “Lovesong Of J. Alfred Prufrock” for a line, Richey speaks of the redemption to be found in the arms of love, sweet love. “Swimming Pool” follows a similar arc, but without the glockenspiel. A goodtime song of innocence and joy.
His take on Elizabeth Cotten’s “O Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” would probably be unrecognizable to the old gal, if she were around today, but features some very cool, soaring octave, Jimmy Page-like, grungish guitar riffage in the extended middle section. A complete change of gears, Foster’s “Hard Times” is delivered in a straight ahead fashion: banjo and bass accompany two voices in downhome harmony. The Gourds from Austin come to mind.
Brainard’s gelatinous pedal steel greatly enhances “Roundabout,” a Hank Williams-like number. Richey lays a squirrely banjo line against Brainard’s sage slide-dobro work ands a dancing mandolin on “Riverboat Gambler” written by Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel, a rootsy ramble.
Brainard returns with effective pedal steel on “Sunset,” a familiar sounding number that refers melodically to several other popular songs. Richey’s capo-ed acoustic chimes like a mandolin, before it is joined by the real thing on the rousing “Courting Song,” with Hord jumping in the back half of the song.
“Walk A Mile” is a dusty country flavored ballad, recalling Dylan in his Blonde On Blonde period. Brainard and Hord again add color and depth to the arrangement with spot-on pedal steel and violin embellishments. Jim Boyer steps to the lead mic on Dock Boggs’ “Red Apple Juice.” Remailley’s hand drums kick the rhythm away from a riverboat shuffle, as Richey winds a banjo tapestry against the insistent rhythm.
Richey loves long instrumental intros to his songs, none longer than “Midnight,” a lovely lullabye, that is a wonderful instrumental between guitar, bass and pedal steel that lasts for a full forty-five seconds, before Kevin even begins the vocal of the first verse. When he finally sings, it’s a piquant song, worthy and reminiscent of Jerry Jeff Walker.
Kevin Richey and his erstwhile cohorts in Bingo create authentic Country and Western music in a style that extends back to the cowboy traditions of the prairie, the Civil War-period parlor songs of Stephen Foster , hillbilly folksongs and slave songs such as those preserved through Elizabeth Cotten. All those elements and many more swing through this music, actuated with purpose and gusto by all.
Blanket Music/Noise For Pretend
The release of this split EP CD marks the debut of one of the brightest musical prospects ever to venture forth in our neck of the woods. Young Esperanza Spalding is still but a teenager, yet her abilities on the stand up bass are fluent and precise. That alone is remarkable. But her talents as a singer are utterly without boundaries. Her natural expressions as a vocalist contain timing and restraint that some singers never achieve in a lifetime of striving. How she managed to acquire these faculties at such a young age remains to be seen. But there it is.
Esperanza, along with drummer Christian Cochran and guitarist Benjamin Workman form Noise For Pretend, an engaging trio of enormous potential.
The four songs they contribute to this project herald the inauguration of great careers for all the members.
Together the band works with tremendous concord, mustering between them a very hip sound comprised of ‘60s Bossa Nova, Cool Jazz and ‘50s torch songs/singers with a touch of the Blues sprinkled on top. The cumulative age between these three probably barely adds up to sixty— if that. Their assimilation of these styles can only be assumed to have been genetically induced.
It is impossible to ascertain, without closer scrutiny, whether they come by this musical information hereditarily, through Oregon’s fine music education system for grades K through 12, or perhaps just as a gift from wherever. Or maybe all of the above. Anyway, they are all three precocious young musicians.
“Pants With His Halfway Down” is the perfect example of the promise this band displays. Cochran lays down a muted junglebeat, as Esperanza dances over the rhythm with her scintillating double bass. Workman bequeaths a Latin essence to his sparse and stellar Jazz inflected guitar stylings. Above that, Spalding’s angelic voice hovers, with nuances of Astrud Gilberto and Peggy Lee in her slightly detached delivery.
The song could easily succeed as the theme song for the next James Bond movie, with remote melodic references to themes such as “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball,” as well as any number of ‘60s Brazilian sambas. “Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke/Will try/His addiction is making poor young girls cry.” The solo section, finds Esperanza taking off on bass, while Workman exhibits tremendous economy and skill with tasty guitar exposition in the brief solo section.
Momagranite” follows a similar trajectory, with Esperanza ripping out an intricate lick over Cochran’s frenetically syncopated drums. Vocally she moves into a lower register, evoking Julie London, while telling the tale of a somnambulently furtive parental unit. Workman works a Spanish accompaniment into the accompaniment.
Benjamin and Esperanza scat a vocal duet on the space-agey “Money Penny,” which has its moments, but does not contain the element of a lyric to sustain it. “Chalk Boy” is a story of a talented chalk graffiti artist (note to self: if they all used chalk, it wouldn’t be such a crime), that exhibits the same sense of melodic adventure and experimentation. Benjamin’s harmony vocal is unique in the sound it creates when harmonizing with Esperanza.
Noise For Pretend are an intriguing threesome of fledgling musicians with a great deal to offer. Esperanza Spalding, especially, gives evidence of a rare and precious talent that should be nurtured. It will be very exciting to hear her progress through the years.
Blanket Music is the name of an engaging quartet led by Chad Crouch, a fertile-minded fellow who displays a charming naivete that is as infectious as the common cold. Chad’s been in town for four or five years now. And besides promoting his own music, he has developed a great new label, Hush, which has quickly found a niche among the better regional labels.
“Hips” sinks into the brain like a clever drug. Hypnotic drums, provided by Greg Lind and abetted by the addition of Chad’s samples of various clicks, blips and whirples lead Crouch’s sleepy vocals (backed here by Esperanza Spalding and Corinna Repp) through a musical dream. The chorus nags and cajoles the memory with an insistent, laid-back allure. Like David Byrne backed by the Rolling Stones doing the Shirelles’ “Baby, It’s You.” Very nice.
A faint Bossa Nova is implied in “Bunny,” an odd, spaced out number, with its own fair share of curiosities, driven by strange samples. Likewise, “Bicycle Theif” (that’s how it’s spelled here) is a likable little Bossa Nova that echoes Carlos Jobim’s “Black Orpheus” with it’s off-kilter lead guitar line. Totally cool. Like a Beck record left out too long in the sun, “Song” wobbles and lurches, as Chad describes the songwriting and recording process within its bizarre lyric. Delightfully strange.
Chad Crouch is unabashedly ingenuous. His guilelessness is rampant. But his knack for aligning peculiar elements into eccentric little ditties, that manage to get off the ground and fly on their own. You have to root for guys like Chad. He’ s just like the rest of us.
Jus’ Family Records
For the better part of the past decade, Terrance “Cool Nutz” Scott has been the instigator of some of the slickest hip hop music to come out of Portland or from the entire Northwest region. Along with his partner Bosko, the two have masterminded Jus’ Family Records for the past eight years.
Bosko long ago moved from Portland to LA, writing the theme for In Living Color while he was still in school, going on to greater things. Bosko renowned for producing “L’il Kim and Jr. M.A.F.I.A’s “I Need You Tonight Remix” with Aaliyah, and, more recently, with E-40, Too Short, Juvenile, Luniz and Richie Rich. But he has kept up with his friends back home in Portland.
Meanwhile, Cool Nutz has released three previous albums under his own moniker as well as albums working with other performers, most prominently with DBA. What distinguishes his work is tight production, utilizing melodic instrumentation.
Lyrically, his is a linear, intelligent and erudite rap in something of a hustla style, with occasional gangsta interjections from some of the guests. Each song involves a number of cohorts and accomplices— engineer Torry Ward, who has a hand in the conception and production of nearly every track; as well as Bosko, Mac Dre, Maniac Lok, Ray Ray, Style Wars and a host of guests.
The album, is interspersed with segments of porn movie dialogue, which helps to keep the mood happening between diverse cuts. As the title of the album implies, and the cover— where Cool Nutz bills himself as “Terry Flynt, the Rap Hustler”— suggests, most of the lyrics deal with aspects of the porn industry, not all of which are necessarily directly sexual in content. Violence and prostitution are confronted as well.
Working off a glinting marimba-like synth figure, “Major Pain” features a tough rap from Cool Nutz, much of it given to describing life in his neighborhood and community. Sparse drum-machine and bass lay the foundation for lean keyboard exposition.
“Freq” features Jumbo of the Lifesavas. Over samples of symphonic strings, harpsichord like sounds twirl behind a lascivious rap. “Hard core porn/Triple-X and profane/Flame propane/Cool Nutz and Lifesavas spit verbal Rogaine/Brought life to the dead, my mental mainframe.” Interspersed with little pornflick moans, the hook, “We put the freq in that there/the freq in what where?” could land a marlin. Very catchy.
A nicely layered collection of samples decorates “Ya Heard Me?” Nervous Spanish guitar, vague string pads and twittering synth tones play off of Cool Nutz’ tale of thugs ‘n’ guns ‘n’ drugs, and boasts as to his supreme proficiency at spitting out rhymes and rap.
Maniac Lok provides the rap and Roger Shepherd the slick background harmony vocals on “My Heata,” a song that seems to refer to a gun in sexual terms, which seems like a one-shot affair, from one perspective. However the allusion is certainly not wasted. Maniac Lok and Ray Ray team up with Cool Nutz on the Bosko produced “Enuff,” a hot, steamy confection. Mechanical keyboards turn like musical ferris wheels, as the girls drawl, “we can grab a bottle and come fuhkwich y’all.”
“The Thug Song,” another Bosko production, plays off a haunting keyboard arpeggio, ”I pose one question baby what you think is worse/Selling your pussy or serving soup on the first.” The clever chorus evokes Paul Williams’ “Old Fashioned Love Song,” made famous by Three Dog Night, “It’s just an old fashioned thug song/’Bout life out on the street/It’s just an old fashioned thug song/Niggas out here tryin’ to eat.”
Torry Ward’s production of “It’s A Shame,” incorporating, piano tones, a Japanese harp, a buzzing sitar tone and soaring symphonic string samples, is a stirring piece, which contains a great sense of drama and pathos. Vocals Maniac Lok, Bosko and Style Wars are especially effective, especially in the chorus. “Can’t Hold Back” features DBA (Cool Nutz, Bosko and Poppa LQ. “This man is savage about this shit…” Oh yeah!
April Cason’s sweet-voiced vocal harmonies provide the counterpoint on “What You Do.’ Style Wars does the same for “Won’t Know,” as Cool Nutz puts a wrap on his status in the Northwest Hiphop/Rap hierarchy. ”Put on your fireproof suit when I spit these flames/When I dropped harsh game/ I changed the rap game/Whether Portland or Seattle/niggas recognize the name.”
It’s not all bluster. Cool Nutz has established himself as one of the leading figures in the Northwest Hiphop scene. He is also one of the few local rappers trying to take his game to a higher level, making a splash on the national scene. The productions here are crisp and sweet. The guests add a lot of divergence and variety. Cool Nutz’ rhymes are a slam dunk. He’s right at the door.
The Power Of Two
Solid Air Records
One half of the Acoustic Guitar Summit regroups here for an appealing album of acoustic guitar duets, filled with eleven original tunes and instrumental covers of songs by John Renbourne of Pentangle and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. Guitarists Smith and Hanson, long ago proved their prowess on their instruments. They have now gained the ability to work in tandem or in an ensemble (no mean feat), so that their music is as seamless and tight as a the weave of a fine Persian rug.
The title track is a perfect example. The two guitarists alternate musical phrases with such ease, that the material practically sounds as if it were programmed on a sequencer. Their interplay is so precise, cascades of crystalline notes flicker in a flurry of fingers and guitar strings. “Run Amok” runs along similar lines , with traces of a faint samba filtering into the turnaround.
A meatier, Blues/Rock-style riff, is employed by the two acoustiteers on “Dyerville Giant.” The duo use it as the fulcrum from which they balance alternating solos on the primary theme, without further developing upon the riff— which is a bit of a disappointment. They do modulate up a fourth couple times in the back half of the composition and their skills at exposition are not to be denied. But the feeling is that the piece could have benefited from more concentration on expansion of the initial riff.
Smith’s “The Long Wait” recalls Bert Jansch’s “Angie,” working off an ascending minor-key bass string line. It’s the sort of milieu in which both guitarists excel and they toss out some delicious solos while migrating the course of the arrangement.
An expansive open tuning lends dimension to Smith’s “Confluence,” which bubbles buoyantly with a sense of unbridled dynamism. Hanson’s “Ryan Time (Again)” seems to capture in music the perambulations of an infant child, wandering and inspecting his miniature world with sometimes deep intent, other times distracted capriciousness. A songlike quality pervades upon the pretty “Renewal II,” where Smith and Hanson duet with exactitude and grace.
Renbourne’s “Snap A Little Owl” is given respectful treatment, and also acts as a barometer for the quality of Smith and Hanson’s technique in regards to the masters, Renbourne and Jansch. From these readings, the forecast looks sunny. Hayward’s “Nights In White Satin” is given a suitably Elizabethan treatment. The pair uncannily capture all of the nuances of the original orchestral score, not necessarily an easy thing to accomplish between two acoustic guitarists.
Hanson’s “Strawberry Curl” carries with it a bit of an Irish jig in the transitions, flitting light sunlight through summer leaves in the main body. Speaking of Elizabethan, Smith’s “Dowland’s Ghost” pays fitting homage to John Dowland, the master lutenist of that era. Hanson’s “Canyon Canon” is a pensive piece. Over Hanson’s melancholy arpeggios, Smith etches out a melody in harmonics, as tender as “Silent Night.”
Mark Hanson and Doug Smith long ago proved themselves to be among the top exponents of acoustic Folk music in this region. The sustained level of quality and craftsmanship here makes obvious their commitment to quality, as well as imbuing their music with a sense of history, as if lessons were being imparted from wise old professors. Indeed, the two are learned academicians of the highest order, from whom there is yet much to be discovered.